Aug 11

The Learning Curve of a New Editor


A few months ago I joined The Red Pen Coach as a content editor. I was (and am!) really excited about it, and I put myself in Nancy’s more-than-capable hands for some guidance as I began my first projects. In some ways, it felt like putting on comfortable shoes, or fleecy pajama pants. I really enjoy looking at story and story elements, and seeing ways to make things stronger, or bringing out characterization. I do think I bring those strengths to the table—partly because I’ve been writing for a long time, but partly too because I’ve done a lot of mentoring in the past and it’s been something that’s been fun and fulfilling. Those first few editing projects felt like a natural extension of something I’ve already been doing.

But I’m learning things all the time, too. For one thing, I always thought I had really great grammar and punctuation. Turns out I have adequate skills in that department. I immediately picked up a few books, like Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and Strunk and White, which is considerably more dry. Now my writing—and editing—is less instinctual. I discovered things I didn’t know, and I also have been learning the actual rule behind rules I knew but couldn’t explain.

The thing that has struck me most is that I need to be right. That’s not to say editors are infallible; of course we make mistakes from time to time. But if I’m going to correct an author on something, I need to be sure I’m giving the correct information. I’ve done more fact-checking than I expected, because it’s not enough to “know” I’m right. I need to back it up. I’m learning all sorts of things!

The other thing I’m discovering, and this is an ongoing process, is that I need to be able to budget my time appropriately. I’m also a writer, and I have my own deadlines to meet, so time management to finish projects when they’re due is really important. I say it’s an ongoing process because every single author I know is still trying to figure this one out, no matter how long they’ve been in the game.

The greatest thing though is that while I hope my clients are learning something from me, I’m also learning a lot from them. I read my own work with a more critical eye. I find that by explaining story elements or principles, I give myself a refresher course at the same time. My clients not only make me a better editor, but a better writer too. And that’s pretty darned cool.

And if I ever have questions or need advice, Nancy’s been fabulous. The only regret I have was not joining her sooner.

Happy writing!







  1. Nancy Cassidy

    It’s been so lovely to work with you, Donna! I am so glad to have you with me. Editing is a constant learning process. I am still learning too – keeping up with what the new takes on plotting are, so I can relate to the terminology my clients are using is a constant process. 🙂


  2. Genevieve Graham

    Welcome to the amazing world of being an author/editor! I found exactly the same things as you … that you not only have to be correct all the time (which necessitates research and explanations, sometimes), you can use what you learn to improve your own writing. Editing is quite a journey, and I wish you happy travels!

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